CIOs exploring solutions for secure collaboration have many options, and it can often be difficult to narrow the choices. In “Ask these questions to determine the right collaboration security approach,” TechRepublic contributor and consultant Salvatore Salamone said it’s crucial that CIOs consider several issues, such as how an enterprise plans to use the technology, as well as the level of security and types of access control a product offers.

The virtual private network (VPN) is often cited as a great mechanism for secure file sharing via the Web. “The VPN approach is good in that it gives you access to all your client-server applications—anything the user can get to dialing in to the company or being on the LAN itself—they can access through a VPN,” explained Salamone.

But it’s not a technology without some bumps, as it’s often hard to deploy and manage. And, if an enterprise is simply looking to share files, a VPN is often too much technology for the requirement.

Following Salamone’s recent article on the secure collaboration services offered by Mangosoft, members expressed a strong interest in finding out about other types of services currently available and even provided suggestions on alternative solutions. So, TechRepublic sought out those services that provide a simple and cost-effective way to collaborate, without the deployment and maintenance headaches that are often associated with traditional VPNs.

In this article, we’ll take a quick look at two viable VPN alternatives: Endeavors Technology’s Magi Enterprise and Qwest’s VPN services.

Magi Enterprise
Endeavors Technology provides a Web collaboration product, Magi Enterprise, that securely extends networks and establishes communities for users. Magi also uses open standards communication protocols that allow interoperability with various applications and platforms.

Magi can be implemented as an end-product collaboration tool through which users can navigate via the product’s built-in GUI or by using Web folder shortcuts. Or, it can be implemented as an infrastructure peer-to-peer platform for applications requiring collaborative workflow. Magi’s features include the following:

  • File sharing and collaboration: This provides naming services for location processing and incorporates open standards communication protocols for easy program integration.
  • Security: This uses secure sockets in tandem with the Magi certificate authority-based public key infrastructure.
  • Community index and search: Magi can index metadata, respect the resource difference of other Magi peer devices, restart indexing at a later date if a Magi peer is unexpectedly disconnected, and cope with a device’s changing IP address.
  • Chat and instant messaging: This is used for forming and communicating within a collaborate group. Individuals can create their own channels on their local Magi installation.
  • Application development and tool integration: This is compatible with a variety of Web development tools, in addition to commercial and open source applications.

Greg Bolcer, Endeavors Technology cofounder and CTO, said Magi provides high search and collaboration capabilities along with high security management capabilities.

“It provides secure, collaborative networks, built completely on your existing IT infrastructure, without unduly having to retrain your enterprise users,” he explained. The product doesn’t involve changing or opening ports on firewalls, which likely eases the minds of security teams and network admins, he pointed out.

“CIOs want high security to protect intellectual property and assets. At the same time, the enterprise end users really need the collaborative capabilities,” said Bolcer.

Qwest VPN services
If your enterprise wants the collaborative benefits of a VPN without the sometimes-crippling cost of implementing one in-house, you may want to consider hiring a VPN services outsourcer. VPN services provider Qwest, for example, allows system administrators to configure site-to-site remote access and intranet/extranet services within a secure environment.

Features of Qwest VPN services include network-based firewalls with end-to-end encryption technology to help protect business networks and a modular design for implementation of firewall and VPN services tailored to specific business requirements.

Scott Cassell, senior manager, VPN Product Management, believes that outsourcing is a good alternative to setting up an in-house VPN, as enterprise efforts require costly, and often rare, expertise. He added that the related administrative headaches that come with setting up a VPN are also borne by the provider, another strong selling point of outsourcing for enterprises.

“We have taken the security and the sophistication of a VPN, and we built it into our network. Customers merely need to plug into the network, and we will apply the appropriate security associations,” said Cassell.

He added that one of the most valuable aspects of using an outsourcer is investment protection.

“An organization can easily go out and spend thousands or hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars on premises-based solutions, and within a period of several months, that solution may already be out of date,” he explained.

“By partnering with an organization like Qwest, [enterprises] can embrace next-generation networking technology and have the confidence that, as their needs evolve, the solution is going to evolve with them.”